Schools minister sends warning letter to academy reborn in January – and makes selective use of Ofsted

Janet Downs's picture
“The sponsored academies programme has been a huge success in transforming the fortunes of the weakest, most challenging schools.”

Department for Education (DfE ) 8 November 2013

Leave aside the inconvenient finding of a buried DfE report which found City Challenge was more successful than sponsored academies in raising performance.

Leave aside the fact that the rate of improvement for sponsored academies is measured from a lower base.

Leave aside the Ofsted inspections in 2011/12 which judged more sponsored academies as inadequate (8%) than other secondary schools (3%).

The DfE was trying very hard to show they would be tough with academies that didn’t raise results. It’s sent out warning letters to 34 sponsored academies, it trumpeted.

But one of the letters, dated 7 October 2013, was sent to Barnfield Business and Enterprise Studio Academy, a sponsor-led academy which closed on 1 January 2013. It was reborn as Barnfield Business and Enterprise Studio and designated “free school – studio school”. It also appears it was launched as Barnfield Skills Academy*, a studio school, at some unknown time.

With so many changes it’s not surprising Lord Nash was confused. He’s not alone. A local paper reporting on DfE investigations into Barnfield College’s finances thinks that Barnfield Studio School and Barnfield Skills Academy are two different schools. And Luton council thinks it’s either a studio school or a University Technology College (UTC).

Closed, re-opened, a new designation, a new launch, whatever – Lord Nash isn’t happy. His letter scolds Barnfield studio school/skills academy/free school/UTC for its low GCSE results. Only 9%, he wrote, gained the magic five** in 2013. The academy, however, is thrilled with its success:

“100% achieving 5 or more A*-C grades in 2012/13, 85% achieving 8 or more A*-C.”

But the success rate didn’t include both Maths and English. Lord Nash turned to Ofsted to chide the school further.

Ofsted’s report for the closed Barnfield Business and Enterprise Studio Academy took place in October 2012. Ofsted confuses things further by heading its report “Barnfield Skills Academy” although a search on Ofsted’s website for a report under this name draws a blank. Nevertheless, Lord Nash seized upon it and quoted two negative comments.

But Lord Nash didn’t notice the heading above the two negative comments:

“It is not yet an outstanding school because…”

If it hadn’t been for those two negative comments the Studio Academy would have been judged “Outstanding”. Lord Nash appears to be rather selective with his use of evidence.


*DfE list of studio schools downloadable here.

**5 GCSEs A*-C (or equivalent) including Maths and English.

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